•In Nyeri, the livestock sector ratio of extension officers to farmers is 1: 4000 while that of other sub-sectors is 1: 2500, out of the recommended ratio of 1:400.
•But technology has enabled the county to reach between 600 to 700 farmers in a single day.
In the 1980s and 90s, extension officers in green overalls would move from one farm to another offering services because they were many and the number of farmers was small.
But farm visits are no longer possible due to the growth in the population of farmers. This has prompted the Nyeri county government to adopt technology to meet the needs of its farmers.
Nyeri has partnered with Brits Agribusiness, a call centre service provider, as one of the innovative solutions to deliver extension services to farmers.
“We are doing this because extension officers are very few and the number of people requiring their services continues to increase every day,” says the CEC for agriculture James Wachihi.
The livestock sector is the worst hit with the ratio of extension officers to farmers being 1: 4,000 while that of crop and other subsectors is 1: 2,500.
The recommended ratio is one extension officer to about 400 farmers.
The county cannot hire more staff due to scarcity of resources and the pressure to cut expenditures and channel more resources to development.
This problem is not unique to Nyeri but is in the entire country where government sectors are struggling with huge wage bills.
“So we had no choice but to employ technology. So far we are happy with the response and we are continuing with the sensitisation of farmers so that they can know that these technologies exist,” Wachichi adds.
The county opted for Brits Agribusiness because of their experience in running call centre services, says Wachihi.
Through the partnership, farmers are now able to call and indicate the area of extension service that they need assistance in and are directed to experts who respond to their questions.
Where their questions cannot be sufficiently responded to within that call centre, they are directed to the nearest extension person either in government or private services.
“Where we require somebody on the ground, we have mapped out our officers and private service providers who are available in that area of expertise and we can make referrals,” he says.
This has improved efficiency in service delivery. Brits Agribusiness CEO Grace Muriithi says the centre assists farmers with free services to enhance their production and ensure they earn more from their ventures.
The help centre, with 53 employees, has experts in crops, fisheries, beekeeping, livestock, agriculture and emerging crops among other subsectors.
Farmers ask questions by calling the Safaricom number 0729 233 696.
“We started call centre services in 2013 but opened a station in Nyeri in 2020, where we have been able to offer assistance to many farmers,” she said.
They have three established centres and target to open four others.
The centre attends to between 600 to 700 farmers in Nyeri county daily and between 3,000 and 5,000 nationally.
The county government allocated Brits space at Wambugu Agricultural Training Centre from where they operate and work with county government staff on a day-to-day basis.
“We have also been working with the Kenya Veterinary Board Association so that we link farmers with accredited experts,” she said.
The call centre receives calls mostly from livestock and horticulture farmers seeking guidance on how to prevent pests and diseases or inquiring on where and how they can access or formulate quality feed.
The only call that has ever taken Grace, an agronomist with 12 years' experience, aback was when a person called to ask how he could excel in snake farming.
“I wouldn’t have imagined that there could be one of our clients who had considered venturing into snake farming. Interestingly, he was so serious that he requested that he be referred to someone else with the expertise,” she explains.
He was referred to Kenya Wildlife Service experts.
Ruth Kariuki, a silage farmer, says she sought their services due to her desire to excel in agribusiness.
“They taught me how to use biological pest control which greatly cut my production cost,” she says.
Eva Muthoni, a dairy farmer, says she has learned a lot since she started seeking advice from Brits and her profits have increased.
Edited by Henry Makori